When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny: The Short Film

By Blythe BairdJune 19, 2017

I remember the broken zipper of the Homecoming gown in the dressing room.

The way my mom pursed her lips when I asked if she could bring me the next size up. “That’s an XL, Blythe. There is no next size up. That’s the biggest size it comes in,” she sighed, the hint of disappointment in her voice as subtle as a spritz of perfume.

The embarrassment of the junior high gym class shorts.

How they rode up between my thighs.

The popular girls who finished the mile several laps before I did.

How they watched me from the bleachers. How they giggled like paper cuts.

I remember Shapedown, the local Weight Watchers program for obese and overweight children.

The link to miracle weight loss supplements a friend’s mother forwarded to me in an email.

The first time a belt dug into my stomach so hard it left imprints on my skin.

The shame when I realized it was already on the loosest notch.

Stumbling upon the pro-anorexia forums and thinspiration on Tumblr.

The realization my body was a pressing issue that desperately needed to be fixed.

* * *

I lost about a third of my original body weight in less than three months.

During my lunch period, I walked laps around the hallways.

I got used to the fainting and the dizzy spells. I was barely eating.

The hallways became a red carpet.

My classmates became hounding paparazzi.

“How’d you do it? What’s your secret?” they’d hiss at me in the school bathroom. I wondered if they could hear my stomach whine.

“Exercise and healthy eating,” I’d lie.

Suddenly, it seemed like everyone cared what I had to say. I had never felt so seen or acknowledged in my entire life. Well-intentioned people constantly told me how proud they were of me.

For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be the popular girl.

Or at least feel like one.

I was terrified to gain any weight or attempt recovery because I worried everyone would be disappointed in me. I didn’t want to let anybody down.

I felt like my eating disorder was everyone’s favorite thing about me. I internalized the misplaced idea that I needed to continue starving myself if I wanted to keep up my newfound significance.

* * *

It created a sharp dichotomy within myself: to suddenly be applauded and noticed and admired for the very thing that was killing me.

It’s so hard to let go of the one thing that made people see you as something besides the fat girl.

When fat people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they have made healthy lifestyle adjustments. When skinny people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they are sick and in need of medical attention.

When I got sick, nobody ever seemed worried. Nothing led me to believe it would be a good idea to attempt recovery. While I was starving myself, I received constant positive reinforcement in every aspect of my life.

I wrote “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” because I was frustrated.

I was frustrated because I was starving myself and all anybody could say to me was how amazing I looked now. How inspiring my rapid weight loss was to them. How badly they wanted to know the magic pill or diet behind my secret to success.

I wanted to write about how people react to eating disorders.

I wanted people to know how harmful their well-intentioned encouragement was.

People’s positive reactions are what made me cling to my disorder. Those reactions made me feel like it was way more important to be thin than it was to recover.

I want our culture to examine how our actions and words perpetuate and encourage eating disorders.

* * *

When I remember the months of starving, it is hard to picture anything except the bathroom and how it became my sanctuary wherever I went. At home, every morning I would go to the bathroom and then weigh myself, put on makeup and then weigh myself again.

When I think of the era my disordered eating was at its worst, I am always teleported back to my bathroom: the headquarters of my illnesses.

In the “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” short film, the director Abby Thompson and I wanted to use the bathroom as a metaphor for my anorexia and bulimia. My eating disorder felt like an environment I couldn’t escape, so I figured if I was going to be stuck there anyways, I might as well make it into a comfortable home.

* * *

If you are still struggling with an eating disorder, remember that while your eating disorder is not a choice, recovery is. Recovery is the most important decision I have ever made for myself. However, it was not a singular choice—every day, I have to choose recovery. Sometimes, I still have to force myself to eat, even if I don’t want to, even if I don’t feel hungry when my body needs food. I want you to know that the choice does get easier.

One day, the painful years you spent trapped in a blur of bathroom scales and counting will be just a vivid dream-like memory, not a daily reality. One day, you will become the nurturing and caring parent that your body always wished for. One day, the waitress will ask if you want dessert and you will say yes and you will eat the best chocolate cake of your life and it will taste so much better than skinny ever, ever felt.

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Comments (8)

  1. Sheridan

    Painful to read, but true. The only way to have a painfree middle school and high school experience is to be thin actually very thin and preferably blond. Please don’t blame the messager. I speak my truth.

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  2. Amy

    My story is so similar to yours so I can sympathize with your situation. I was bullied during high school for being “fat” and it wasn’t until 8-10 years later that the ED was activated through a decision to lose weight. The positive reinforcement and attention I received felt amazing but I didn’t realize that they were just feeding the eating disorder! I have restored a fair bit of weight and now look “healthy”. Amazingly people don’t seem to care as much or believe me anymore. I look ok so I must be ok, when I am still battling the same horrid internal dialogue inside my head…

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  3. Erin

    I love almost everything about this article. It’s raw and real and so very powerful.

    But I think it’s important to remember that when skinny people lose weight, people DON’T usually assume they are sick and in need of medical attention.

    At fourteen, I was thin but healthy. When I developed anorexia at fifteen, nobody ever seemed worried. Despite the fact that my stomach looked like it had been hit with a meteorite, leaving a crater between my hip bones and ribs, I received constant praise. Like you, nothing led me to believe it would be a good idea to attempt recovery. People’s positive reactions are what made me – just like you – cling to my disorder.

    So I LOVE that you wrote about how people reacted to your eating disorder. There is nothing more beautiful than sharing your story. Just remember that often (in my experience and in the experience of others), people react to weight loss with positive reinforcement, no matter your size/shape/set-point range/etc. It’s sad, but true.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply  |  
  4. Jen

    Reading this brought me to tears. I walk each step of your story in my own life and I can only hope to become as strong as you are now.

    Reply  |  
  5. Livi Mae

    this is so f***ing powerful

    Reply  |  
  6. tarindi n.

    this is amazing. you are my role model and inspiration, i love your slam poems! i’m so happy you recovered, this is a great message for girls and boys struggling with an eating disorder. <3

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  7. Amanda

    Your words have made so many memories resurface, that I’m bawling at the years I spent on a socially constructed beauty standard, even after I reached my goal weight with diet and exercise I was the unhappiest person on planet. I still hated myself . So in the end what is the use. I currently going through the stage where I’m popular because I lost weight, and that’s the only thing about me that matters and the only validation of my existence and it honestly makes me feel like shit. I love the end and I love the beginning of the short film. I hope it helps me accept myself.

    Reply  |  
  8. J

    This is sad yet true. I was struggling with weight loss issues ever since second grade. My stomach looked like a fricken baloon! It’s like you have to be thin in order to not be talked about! I mean what kind of shit is that! Why can’t you just be round?
    What’s wrong with that? It’s like when your overweighted, kids great you like your some sort of fucking disease. I just wish they could realize what we go through..

    Reply  |  
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